For fools speak folly, their hearts are bent on evil: They practice ungodliness and spread error concerning the Lord; the hungry they leave empty, and from the thirsty they withhold water. —Isaiah
The Bible discusses fools, a lot. In fact, it details three varieties of them: the "simple" fool (aka, simpleton), easily deceived or gullible; the "fool" fool, just plain obstinate and refusing to listen to anything or anyone who contradicts what he or she already believes to be true; and the "scoffer" fool, an arrogant, mocking asshole who encourages or deceives others to embrace foolishness as well.
In Biblical times, fools ran around rejecting the teachings of Jesus and the prophets. Actually, the same is true today, but ironically, the people most rejecting the teachings of Jesus and the prophets are American Christians, particularly evangelical ones who support former President Donald J. Trump. Contrary to the advice of Proverbs, these fools don't listen to advice, value knowledge, or refrain from pridefully lashing out. They very much appear to "find pleasure in wicked schemes" and go against nearly every teaching of Jesus, whom they have replaced in their idolatry with a serial adulterer, pathological liar, and malignant narcissist.
Most Americans, by virtue of the facility with which we are manipulated by every sort of media, are simpletons. Those who identify strongly as liberals and conservatives—the more "Left" or "woke" the former; the more "Right" or "patriotic" the latter—are doing our best to play the fools. We shouldn't underestimate the amount of damage simpletons and fools can inflict on a relatively nascent democratic republic, but it's the scoffers we really need to watch out for. Especially now that one of the worst of them managed to mock his way all the way to the White House, malinger there through four years and two impeachments, and is still hoping to Netanyahu his way back.
We'd witnessed some savage stuff throughout Trump's rise to and reign of power, but the art of the scoff achieved a new level on October 2, 2021. NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing Brandon Brown at the Talladega Superspeedway after he won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sparks 300 race. Somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand fools—er, fans—were chanting "Fuck Joe Biden" in the background, because, you know, Alabama.
Stavast said, "You can hear the chants from the crowd, 'Let's go, Brandon!'"
Whether she misunderstood the chant or intentionally misquoted it, the phrase "Let's Go (sic) Brandon" entered the national lexicon.
Conservative pundits and politicians were quick to seize on an opportunity to openly mock Joe Biden in polite company. To say "Fuck you" to the 79-year-old President of the United States outside the confines of a NASCAR venue without actually saying "Fuck you" was intoxicating stuff. Plus, and this is something people who support Biden are loathe to admit, "Let's Go Brandon" is reasonably clever—more so than the similarly themed presidential bumper sticker dis of the 2000s, "Buck Fush," and less crass than Robert DeNiro's 2018 Tony Awards declaration, "It's no longer down with Trump, it's fuck Trump!"
"Let's Go Brandon" even had a moment of haute couture when Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert wore a red dress with the slogan in white letters on the back to an event at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club. She was engaged in a kind of meta mockery, since not only was she flipping Biden the bird, she was also referencing a similar get up New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez had previously worn to the 2021 Met Gala. Cortez's dress had red letters on white fabric saying, "Tax the rich!" a message with a much more literal, and therefore less humorous, intent.
At the 2022 White House Correspondents' Dinner, President Joe Biden joked, "Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon. He's having a good year. I'm kind of happy for him."
Good on Biden for rolling with the punches, but I think he should lean in harder and make "Let's Go Brandon" his reelection campaign slogan. There's plenty of precedent for co-opting derogatory language, from Black people taking back the "N" word, women calling each other the "B" word, Obama embracing the term Obamacare... and nothing would chap his detractors asses more than if Biden appropriated one of the few legitimately clever things conservatives have ever come up with. And it may just be the best way to deal with scoffers is to do just this: co-opt, appropriate, diffuse...
The Bible advises the simpleton to "leave simplicity and learn prudence" (if only it were so easy!) and says fools are to be punished or avoided, but Scripture doesn't offer much advice on how to deal with scoffers. It pretty much accedes scoffers don't have hope for redemption other than by the grace of God. The rest of us are left to cope with the scoffers as best we can. I say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, or at least lean into whatever they're using against you.
LOATHING IN THE USA
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19
On the evening of August 11, 2017, about 250 mostly male members of various white nationalist groups, including Vanguard America, carried out the infamous "Tiki Torch" march in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the impending removal of Robert E. Lee's statue. They chanted "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us," before getting into a brawl with a smaller group of UVA students and eventually being dispersed by State Police. Later that weekend, white nationalist James Alex Fields, Jr., gunned his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old white woman Heather Heyer, which netted him two life sentences and an additional 419 years of prison time and took the wind out of the neo-Nazi sails for a little while, in spite of Donald J. Trump's assertion "there were good people on both sides" at the Charlottesville protests.
The dictionary says to scoff is "to speak contemptuously about, express derision for, or mock." But the scoffer of the Bible does so much more than that. The Hebrew word for "scoffer" also translates to "ambassador," and a scoffer isn't content to ridicule those who disagree with him. He is all about recruiting allies and acolytes, and like the OG scoffer himself, Satan, he'll use every form of deceit there is to get the job done.
Scoffers foment fear and resentment, which leads to loathing. A virulent result of scoffery is racism, and specifically in the context of America, white supremacy (what white nationalism really means). Here we have a group of people who convince themselves they're victims so as to justify their victimization of others. It's a classic scoffer move.
Fast forward to June 12, 2022, and 31 members of the Patriot Front (patriotism in this case being a euphemism for nationalism and therefore white supremacy) (Patriot Front being the rebranded organization formerly known as the aforementioned Vanguard America, one of three groups believed to be responsible for 91 percent of all white supremacist activity in the US in 2021) were arrested on their way to incite a riot at a Pride event in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. They were packed into the back of a U-Haul truck, wearing cute little matching outfits: khakis, navy blue shirts, beige hats, and white balaclavas. The widely circulated photo of rows of preppy race terrorists moonlighting as gender and sexuality nonconformity terrorists kneeling on a lawn in handcuffs would be comical if it weren't also simultaneously sad, irritating, enraging, frightening, and pathetic.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in 2017 there were 450 white supremacist organizations, including 100 white nationalist groups, 78 racist skinhead, 99 neo-Nazi, 43 neo-confederate, and 130 Ku Klux Klan chapters. That number has reportedly grown in the five years since, with crackers coming out of the woodwork, emboldened by their perception that white is the new black. In case anyone is unsure where they got that idea, as KKK wannabe Harry Potter wizard David Duke put it in 2017, "We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump."
EVERYBODY'S GOT A THEORY
There are no white people in the Bible. Take all the time you need with this. —Internet Meme
In the Trump era, scoffery has become aspirational. Twenty years ago, the show MTV Cribs and other reality shows convinced many Americans they were celebrities who hadn't yet been discovered, millionaires who hadn't yet gotten rich, stars of their own TV shows not yet syndicated. Today, in part thanks to social media giving everyone with Internet access a platform, it's hard to find a simpleton or a fool who doesn't think of himself as a scoffer, whether he has a timeslot on Newsmax radio or not.
But simpletons and fools, no matter how ambitious they are, usually don't have the talent or opportunity to become full-fledged scoffers themselves. Many don't even have the initiative to graduate from simpletons to fools by acquiring really hardened beliefs without legit scoffers—the ones with the juice—egging them on, showing them the way, feeding them talking points and slogans du jour. Politicians may be the pointy end of this spear, but propagandists—pundits and news "personalities"—do the real yeoman's work when it comes to scoffery, and there's usually even smarter people upstream, providing the inspiration for the indignation. It's a whole structure.
On September 22, 2021, Tucker Carlson broadcasted a segment on his Fox News show titled, "Nothing About What's Happening Is an Accident." In it he claims US border policy was intended to "change the racial mix of the country... the 'great replacement,' the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries."
Carlson owes his replacement "theory" to two French authors (ironic, given the ire their homeland raised with Carlson's conservative media predecessors during the whole "freedom fries" kerfuffle).
Jean Raspail's 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints and Renaud Camus' 2012 book The Great Replacement are almost as influential to Tucker's fellow racist intelligentsia as The Turner Diaries. These books and the central fear they stoke—black and brown people bringing about the literal extinction of the white race—directly led to Charlottesville, as well as the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacres, the 2019 El Paso Walmart massacre, and the 2022 Buffalo Tops supermarket massacre. And by "led," I mean the people who perpetrated those massacres credited some version of "replacement theory" as their motivation for murdering total strangers.
Ideas—especially ones fueled by fear, resentment, and loathing—lead to actions, and an active shooter is by definition acting on his convictions. He's walking the talk. He's putting his semi-automatic pistol where his mouth is (unfortunately not literally and not before he destroys a bunch of other peoples' lives).
EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC
Look around. Understand that the very people and civilization you are here to rescue from themselves are also, temporarily at least, and through no real fault of their own, our sworn enemies. —from Sol Luckman's Cali the Destroyer
Replacement Theory isn't the only theory making the news these days. 1970s Harvard Law professor Derrick Albert Bell, Jr., is credited with laying much of the groundwork for what is now collectively referred to as Critical Race Theory. He had spent years fighting for school desegregation and busing programs, and disillusioned with white people—conservatives and liberals alike—he basically concluded the game was rigged.
CRT, distilled down, is a realization Black and other marginalized people aren't ever going to achieve equality in a system designed to preserve inequality, and the system will never change unless people know how it was specifically and intentionally designed to preserve inequality.
Taught in law schools, not elementary or secondary schools, CRT's tenets are multitudinous and complex, and while proponents and their ideas have garnered criticism from across the ideological spectrum of academia, there was almost no awareness of CRT by the general public prior to 2020.
After a summer of anti-racist activism in response to the murder of George Floyd, Donald J. Trump and various conservative media personalities brought CRT to the forefront of American consciousness by labeling it divisive, un-American, and racist.
Convinced their children were being brainwashed to hate themselves—or worse, be ashamed of their parents—white Republicans across the nation got good and triggered, put on their "grass roots outrage" outfits they'd worn a few years prior during the Obamacare "Death Panels" summer, and accosted educators and school boards, insisting words like "white privilege" and "slavery" go away.
Meanwhile, thanks to CRT, all kinds of new phrases had entered into common usage, including "the patriarchy," "lived experience," "white privilege," "social justice," "micro-aggressions," and perhaps the most disturbing to CRT opponents, "systemic racism."
Undeterred, and without a hint of irony, the white patriarchal scoffer structure implemented a swift, systemic response, culminating in legislation like the Stop Woke Act—championed and signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year—prohibiting individuals from making others "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin."
It's still perfectly fine in this country to do everything one can to use mockery and deception to promote fear, resentment, and loathing. That's a Constitutional right. But it's not okay to hypothetically use historical facts to make white children feel mildly uncomfortable or critical toward white people. To prevent that sort of thing, we will legislate a safe space immediately.
As African American Policy Forum founder Kimberlé Crenshaw points out, the anti-CRT movement is not about CRT at all. It's really an anti-anti-racism movement, and it really took off after the January 6th insurrection. Her response to conservatives' fears their children are being indoctrinated? She developed "CRT Summer School," a perfect, lean-in response. CRT wasn't being taught to schoolchildren before, but it will be now.
THE ART OF THE TRIGGER
Never tell a fool that he is a fool. All you'll have is an angry fool. —Talmud
Why are scoffers so successful at winding people up? We don't have to be social psychologists to know, when someone says or does something to make us feel diminished, offended, threatened, stereotyped, discounted, or attacked, it pisses us off. Social psychologists, however, are tenure-bound to come up with theories on how this works. My Libertarian friend Joe, a PhD in psychology himself, dismisses almost everyone working in his field as "Leftists." Nonetheless, if we take what they have to say with a grain of salt, applying what we know to be true from our own lived experience, we can glean something useful from studies like "Why Seemingly Trivial Events Sometimes Evoke Strong Emotional Reactions: The Role of Social Exchange Rule Violations" by Mark R. Leary, Kate J. Diebels, Katrina P. Jongman-Sereno, and Xuan Duong Fernandez, wherein the authors postulate people get disproportionately angry not just when they've been treated poorly, but most prevalently when they perceive the violation of something called "social exchange rules."
Because trust is a central feature of interdependent group living and necessary for cooperative relationships and collective action, people highly value trustworthiness and react strongly when others behave in ways that undermine trust... social exchange rules are so important to well-being that human beings have evolved cognitive mechanisms to detect, at fairly low thresholds, violations of certain social exchange rules.
It doesn't take a genius to understand what's happening in America. Simpletons, particularly ones with built in grievances, are molded into full-fledge fools by scoffers who play on their vulnerabilities and convince them the enemy—whether it is Blacks or Jews, women or members of the LGBTQ community, "libtards" or "the establishment"—has violated the social exchange rules. In a world where every institution, from churches to businesses to the military to every level of government, has been found guilty of harboring every variety of charlatan and scumbag, it's not too hard to convince people they can't trust anyone or anything. It doesn't matter if the scoffer can't be trusted, either. In fact, the bigger liar the scoffer, the more complete the overall descent into nihilistic foolishness.
IF I WERE AN INCEL
We can't redistribute women's bodies as if they are a natural resource; they are the bodies we live in. We can redistribute the value we apportion to one another—something that the incels demand from others but refuse to do themselves. —Jia Tolentino
Not all American hate is limited to race or ethnicity, and we know this from our massacres, which are pretty vivid indicators of where the hatred is being directed.
In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who identified as an "involuntary celibate" or "incel," went on a killing spree as "retribution" (his word) for his inability to get laid. He killed six people and injured 14 others, then shot himself in the head, but not before achieving boss-level scoffer status by uploading a YouTube video and penning a manifesto.
Rodger's efforts raised public awareness of what is alternately called "misogynistic terrorism" or "misogynistic extremism." He also inspired other put-upon men to exact revenge for their involuntary celibacy, including 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer, who in 2015 shot and killed nine people at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon; 26-year-old Alek Minassian, who in 2018 drove his van into pedestrians in Toronto, killing 11 and injuring 15 (he famously posted before the attack, "the Incel Rebellion has already begun"); and in 2018, 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, who killed two women and injured four others in a Tallahassee yoga studio.
As evidence of Rodger's lasting legacy, the act of going on a killing rampage is now referred to in the incel community as "pulling an ER."
One beef expressed by incels, aside from their perpetual case of society-inflicted blueballs, is they have no shot (literally) at contributing to the gene pool. Their "kind," they believe, gets replaced by the offspring of more desirable people with each generation, and they place the blame for this existential exclusion primarily on women for choosing not to have sex with them. Most people would call this nonsense "misogynistic foolishness," but they would do so at their peril, because incels, like white nationalists, have guns and manifestos, and they aren't messing around.
Tucker Carlson is not an incel himself, but one assumes he is still an inspiration to them. My guess is they idolize Tucker and fellow propagandist Laura Ingraham the way gay men celebrate Madonna and Lady Gaga (or the way incels actually profess to worship Donald J. Trump, a man unafraid to grab a pussy when he has a hankering). It's not that Carlson and Ingraham project any sympathy for sexually frustrated men. In fact, they're pretty close to a classic Chad and Stacy duo. But I'm betting the incels can relate to all the fear, resentment, and loathing.
Choosing a political party or side is, when it comes down to it, a matter of preference driven by taste, happenstance, even aesthetics... Coke v Pepsi. Ford v Ferrari. Roe v Wade. But the fear, resentment, and loathing—culminating in pure rage—driving America's mass shooters? That's not something one gets to choose. It's either in one already, or it was formed by a lifetime of bad synapses, bad circumstances, bad choices, and super bad influences. People make choices, but the rage—when fanned and directed by a good scoffer—drives people to their ultimate conclusions.
Publishing an incel manifesto or hosting a cable news show where you promote replacement theory—both are the acts of scoffers. When the incel shoots up a shopping mall, though, he's now a scoffer who has also become a homicidal maniac. Those are two different things, but one can lead to the other, especially when there is a whole scaffolded structure of scoffing in the world—systemic scoffery, if you will—reinforcing the same ideas one has in one's manifesto. Ideas about the fear of being replaced; the resentment of having something stolen, or worse, of being the butt of the joke; the loathing of the other. Tucker Carlson isn't going to murder people in a shopping mall. He knows that's bad for ratings. But he'll champion profoundly corrosive ideas because those are good for ratings, and someone with less sense and more rage will carry said ideas out to their ultimate conclusions.
LITTLE WHITE LIES
The propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. —Aldous Huxley
There are big lies, and then there is the fog of deception made up of an avalanche—an outright blizzard—of smaller lies. The Washington Post's Factchecker documented 30,573 false or misleading statements Trump made during his four years in office, and that daily deluge of deceit both reflected and fueled what has been a Stranger Things-like breakdown between reality and the upside down world of "alternative facts" during the Trump era—an era during which another previously obscure term became part of Americans' everyday vocabulary: "gaslighting."
"The Big Lie"—that Trump won the 2020 election in a landslide only to have it stolen from him—as pernicious as it is, is relatively straightforward. What we'll never have a Congressional hearing or commission to investigate is all the other lies Trump told as a candidate, as the President, and since leaving office. Ditto all the other distortions of reality introduced and reinforced by not just Trump, and not just his supporters, but by everyone who recognized the usual societal norms governing public behavior had evaporated.
Donald Trump lived, breathed, and tweeted scoffing to such a degree, he nearly tore a hole in the space-time continuum. His supporters mocked anyone disturbed by Trump's casual fascism, committed narcissism, and fanatical devotion to deception, as suffering from "Trump Derangement Syndrome." They weren't far from the truth. Arguably, we are all suffering from a form of PTSD, with "Trump" inserted for "Traumatic," though the effect to our collective sense of reality has been as damaging as any six-year-long national psychotic break can be.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
A person can have a job and a house and a family and also be a racist, a misogynist, and a believer in weird things, such as that Barack Obama is Kenyan, George Soros is behind the Black Lives Matter movement, or Joe Biden stole the election. —Katha Pollitt
One way to tell the scoffers in America are winning is the way their lies and insults are becoming not just more extreme, but more mainstream. There was a time before Trump when no one would dream of using the word "pussy" in polite company. Similarly, it's no longer unusual for a popular bumper sticker to say, with letters fashioned out of firearms, "Fuck Joe and the Hoe." It's a tidy piece of scoffery, niftily pulling together gun fetishism, locker room talk, and what passes for GOP politics in the 2020s.
The truth is, Trump supporters, incels, and white supremacists have a lot more in common with each other than probably any of them would like to admit, and that's leaving aside how many members of each group are still living in their mothers' basements.
What is there to do? The Bible, as mentioned, largely throws up its hands when it comes to scoffers. We're urged to guard against letting them mislead us, surely, but as for preventing them from misleading others to gun us down in shopping malls, or preventing them from inciting other, more successful insurrections? We're to trust God will sort all that out later.
Here again, though, maybe the answer is to lean in. Kamala Harris was a lot more compelling when she wasn't forcing laughter and dumbing herself down to be relatable and non-threatening. Where is the Senator who excoriated fools during all those hearings? Where is the candidate who castigated and practically castrated Joe Biden on primetime TV? Where is the first female Attorney General in US history? Where is the district attorney who publicly and unapologetically had an affair with Willie Brown, the first black mayor of San Francisco?
Conservatives have no trouble calling the first female Vice President a "hoe." Not all of them use the word, but it's an entirely mainstream GOP talking point to suggest she used sex to get where she is. Frankly, I think Kamala Harris should embrace her "bad bitch" self and do everything she can to emasculate every middle-aged white man in this country. Anyone worth a shit wouldn't be threatened at all, and I'm willing to bet most of the dudes who hate her so much would spend hours every day getting intimate with a ball gag and a whip with the name Kamala engraved on its handle. Imagine the cumulative positive effect of so many patriots spending all those hours masturbating instead of furiously typing misogyny into the social media ether.
THAT LITTLE GIRL WAS ME
You have to see and smell and feel the circumstances of people to really understand them. —Kamala Harris
In 2009, a local Jewish millionaire offered Jewish families $50 thousand apiece to relocate to his hometown of Dothan, Alabama. The idea wasn't so much to replace the non-Jewish population of Dothan, but to replenish the Jewish one, which had dwindled over the years from its high of 205 residents in 1980 to about half that in 2000. Eleven families, about 20 adults and 9 children, took Larry Blumberg up on his offer, but according to the Washington Post, many of them are now beginning to wonder if relocating to rural Alabama was such a good idea. Turns out, non-Jewish residents there harbor pretty extreme beliefs, including one that Jews grind up gentile babies and use them for hamburger. When the Tiki Torch marchers in Charlottesville chanted "The Jews will not replace us," they were probably right, and they're probably safe... for now. But maybe there's a glimmer of an idea here for battling the scoffer scourge plaguing America.
It's an idea with a surprising lineage. In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the "M Project." This effort sought to secretly figure out where to relocate Jews and other ethnic groups after WWII, principally to prevent them from concentrating in large cities. Dispersion was the goal, and while FDR's intentions might not have been entirely benign, they were at least the opposite of Hitler's, which was to literally concentrate Jews and other people he deemed inferior in concentration camps.
As an aside, FDR had a flair for written expression, as this kickoff memo to John Franklin Carter, head of FDR's informal secret service, illustrates:
I know that you and Henry Field can carry out this project unofficially, exploratorially, ethnologically, racially, admixturally, miscegenationally, confidentially and, above all, budgetarily... Any person connected herewith whose name appears in the public print will suffer guillotinally.
So FDR may have been a galloping racist, but it's possible for people on the wrong side of a given issue to luck onto the right solution for another. Neither concentration nor dispersion is without its drawbacks or advantages, but what city planners and educators have known for years is zoning facilitating racial segregation and concentrated economic disparity can produce devastating outcomes for communities and individuals. If you want to give poor children a path out of poverty, you don't cram them all together and let them percolate in their poor ways. And if you want rich children to be less insufferable and sociopathic, you have them muck around with the less fortunate.
If we want our coastal people to be less elite and our rural people to be less... Trumpy... we should do something about the geographic divisions in this country. As Huck Finn said, with regard to food but probably other things, "In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better."
Kamala Harris was famously bused to an intentionally integrated school in Berkeley, California. In a Presidential debate on June 17, 2019, she took Biden to task for opposing busing programs back in the 1970s, pointing out how while others might have the luxury of having an "academic debate" about such things, for her it was deeply personal and presumably the reason she was now standing on that stage. It was a powerful moment, and Biden ultimately chose her as his running mate, simultaneously demonstrating his own humility while rewarding Harris' mettle for calling him out.
AS A DOG RETURNS TO ITS VOMIT, SO FOOLS REPEAT THEIR FOLLY
Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that's what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with: We will stop the steal. Today I will lay out just some of the evidence proving that we won this election and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election. —Donald J. Trump, January 6, 2021
Mass shootings and vehicular homicides aren't the only fruit born of American scoffer activities. Sometimes it's something bigger, like an insurrection. Ideas lead to actions, and deceitful ideas designed to stoke fear, resentment, and loathing, inevitably lead to violence. The bigger the lie, the more profound the violence. Some lies are just too big to fail, meaning someone has to act upon them. Convince a fool of a big enough lie, and they will sell out the very thing you're telling them to protect.
In December of 2020, I had a major falling out on Facebook with the little brother of one of my best friends from high school. We had been carrying on a series of arguments for weeks, as I tend to do on Facebook with the many people in my life whose politics are more conservative than my own. The falling out occurred when my friend's little brother, a military veteran who claimed to do his "own research" and his "own thinking," vehemently asserted the election had been stolen and Joe Biden was not the legitimate President-elect, to which I eventually replied, if he really thought this was the case and he wasn't packing up his guns and heading to DC to do something about it, he was an un-American pussy. Which resulted in his putting me on Facebook snooze for a year.
I didn't have specific knowledge of the impending January 6th insurrection at the time, and I don't know if my friend's little brother ultimately did join the festivities, but I recognized The Big Lie for what it was: a lie too big not to act upon.
BURSTING THE BUBBLE
If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted. —Franz Kafka
Perhaps the most confounding story in the Bible is that of the Tower of Babel. In some ways it mirrors the Icarus myth, whose title character's hubris became his downfall; and in some ways it's a standard example of origin mythology, explaining in this case why there are so many different languages in the world; and in some ways the allegory goes deeper, suggesting the roots not just of different languages, but of the plague of division mankind has endured throughout our brief run on this planet. It's confounding, though, because as relayed in the Book of Genesis, mankind's hubris isn't the reason God consigns him to division. The people building the Tower were doing so not out of foolish pride but as a manifestation of industry, community, and a justifiable desire for self-preservation.
The entire passage is short and worth reading:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Stories like this one shed light on why American evangelical Christians are so easily manipulated by scoffers like Donald Trump. American evangelical Christians must reconcile a schizophrenic, fundamentalist belief system, wherein they are taught a cautionary tale of God literally punishing humans for working together to build a towering city, and the next minute they're told America is the "city on a hill" Jesus wants them to build.
Biblical allegory doesn't really explain how language developed in the first place. Modern science has tried to fill in the gaps, but not everyone agrees with each other. Discontinuity Theory, of which Noam Chomsky is a proponent, posits a single individual about 100,000 years ago experienced a mutation, which "installed" a language faculty in his or her brain. That mutation then spread, COVID-style, to infect the entire human race. Others champion Continuity Theory, where language evolved gradually over eons and across species, probably tied to capacities for song we can see in birds, which probably existed in their ancestors, the dinosaurs.
If the origin of language is a mystery, what is much more understood is how languages diverge and evolve once they exist. We can see this happening in real time. There were 275 new words added to the dictionary already in 2022, along with over 1,000 revised definitions. Just a few of note: "Forest Bathing," "Memefy," "Unsheltered," and "Metaverse."
Languages, like customs in the shorter term and genetics in the longer, achieve diversity through isolation. A group of people with a given set of customs and a given language, if split apart and banished to, say, different islands, will pretty quickly begin to develop different customs and different languages. Given enough time apart, these now two groups of people will not only act and speak differently, they will even cease to have the same racial markers.
The US has only been a country for a few hundred years, and we are allowed, even encouraged, to intermingle. Our citizens serve in the same military, have access to the same movies and television shows, and at least since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, have very few tangible, structural barriers between us. And yet, major cities like Milwaukee, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, and Detroit continue to be largely segregated by race. Rural, urban, and suburban America have distinctive cultures and politics, as do the major geographic regions—especially the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West. And now, lain over the top of—simultaneously reflecting and exacerbating those already existing divisions—is the modern phenomenon of the "media bubble."
People's knowledge and opinions have always been filtered by what they want to hear and therefore by the information sources they're willing consume, but since the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the start of Fox News and MSNBC in 1996, and the rise of social media—used by five percent of Americans in 2005, and by 79 percent by 2019—most of us are now firmly ensconced in what Eli Pariser coined in a 2011 Ted Talk "online filter bubbles."
Online filter or social media bubbles allow people living next door to each other to not just have different cultures, beliefs, and languages, but experience wildly divergent realities.
They voted with their feet. —Vladimir Lenin, regarding deserting Russian soldiers
The conundrum of how to share power between disproportionately populated geographies received a lasting solution during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when Roger Sherman, perhaps the Founding Father whose name is least known in proportion to his contributions, proposed what came to be known as the Great Compromise. Therein, Congress would have two houses, and the membership of the House of Representatives would be determined by the population of each state, while membership of the Senate would put all states on equal footing by giving them each two Senators. The bicameral legislature is mirrored at the state level as well, and with the help of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the electoral college, some would argue this arrangement has enabled smaller states and more sparsely populated rural areas to wield too much power compared to larger states and densely populated cities. Some argue this outcome was intentionally engineered by Southern slaveowners, whose beloved "states' rights" was a euphemism for the preservation of systemic racism.
The two Western states of California and Wyoming offer a stark illustration of how the Great Compromise manifests itself in 2022. Wyoming has fewer than 600 thousand residents, while California has over 39 million. Since both states send two members to the US Senate, Wyoming's residents, individually, have 65 times as much say in Senatorial matters as California's. About 16 percent of Wyoming's 280 thousand registered voters identify as Democrats, versus about 46 percent of California's 20 million registered voters. The median home price in Wyoming is $279 thousand, while the average home in California costs over $700 thousand. Wyoming is the home of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his embattled—for taking a daring stand against insurrection and outright fascism—daughter and ultra-conservative in her own right Congresswoman Liz Cheney. While California has generated some notable Republicans over the years, including Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Darrell Issa, and Kevin McCarthy, currently no Republicans hold statewide office there, and the list of California Democrats currently serving in Congress includes liberal luminaries Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, and Maxine Watters.
The geographical divisions in this country, though, may be in for a bit of a shakeup, or several shakeups, the first having to do with advancements in technology with the potential to alter the whole human experience.
In 1992, Neal Stephenson wrote the novel Snow Crash, wherein he coined the term "metaverse." When Facebook rebranded as Meta in 2021, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he saw the metaverse as being the future of the Internet, and his intention was to move his company "from being Facebook first... to being metaverse first." When Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse, he envisions a scenario where...
...most people will be spending time in a fully immersive, 3D version of the internet that spans not just Meta's hardware such as the Quest, but devices made by others... you show up in a virtual space as a full-bodied avatar, or appear as a hologram of yourself in the real-world living room of your friend who lives across the planet.
The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic did more than kill over six million people and cost over $12 trillion worldwide. It also accelerated the trend of working from home. Before the pandemic, about 40 percent of US workers felt their jobs could be done without physically going to a place of work, but only 20 percent of those people were teleworking. That equated to six percent of employed people overall. At the height of the outbreak, that number had shot to over 70 percent of eligible teleworkers, 30 percent overall. By January of 2022, although most people could physically go back to their places of employment, 59 percent who could do so were still working from home, with the overall consensus being more people who can work remotely will be pursuing that option in the future.
It's possible the cat is out of the bag. Global Workplace Analytics is claiming 37 percent of remote employees would take a ten percent pay cut to continue working from home, while Airtasker claims remote employees work 17 more workdays a year and an additional ten minutes a day, and are unproductive for fewer minutes than onsite workers. It all amounts to a sea-change in how people make a living, which equates to a sea-change in where and how they are going to be able to live.
Politics is a numbers game. Many Wyoming counties have fewer people living in them, certainly fewer registered voters, than there are registered Democrats in a few Los Angeles city blocks.
Looking at a political map of the US, it's a sea of solid red (meaning Republican) ringed by blue (Democratic) coastal edges. Zoom into each state, and you'll see a sea of solid rural red, dotted with blue cities.
In 2018, Missouri's Republican Senator Josh Hawley defeated Democrat Claire McCaskill by 141,992 votes. That same year in Florida, Republican Rick Scott defeated Democrat Bill Nelson by 10,033 votes to earn his seat in the US Senate. Even in the blood-red state of Texas, Republican Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Democrat Beto O'Rourke by 214,921 votes, which equated to a margin of just 2.6 percent.
I'm not saying this would be a sound public policy to actually pursue, but mathematically speaking, if coastal and urban Democrats were to sell their expensive abodes, switch to working from home (or stay that way, post-pandemic), and disperse across the countryside, a handful here and a few families there, they could not only live high off the hog, they would turn rural counties, states like Wyoming, the entire country... blue overnight. This would be a new, counter-intuitive way of voting with one's feet, where instead of running away from policies one doesn't like, one instead leans in and runs to meet them head on.
If liberal-leaning billionaires like Bill Gates and George Soros really wanted to move the political dial, they could kickstart this process by offering grants and incentives—not directly to moving families like Larry Blumberg did, but to companies offering remote and virtual work options.
TIME TO MAN UP
The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. —Plato
The previous section may sound like it's offering a solution, but it is not.
I've been a self-professed "liberal" my whole life, and while I've seldom voted for a Republican candidate, I don't believe Democratic Party election victories represent any long-term solution for anything.
Being a California resident, Democrat, or liberal doesn't preclude one from being a fool, any more than being a Wyoming resident, Republican, or conservative ensures one is. It is true the Republican National Committee and the Republican leadership in Congress have explicitly aligned themselves with Trump and The Big Lie, so for the moment there is clarity about who the greater (or worse) scoffers are, but political parties are changeable. They are necessary evils and not something to which one should hitch one's allegiances or hopes. Even if blue voters did pull off some kind of organized "replacement" of red voters, there's no guarantee they wouldn't become red voters once they got a taste for NASCAR and wide open spaces.
It's more likely if there were some kind of intentional program, and white male evangelical Christian Trump supporting incels got wind they were being systematically replaced by telecommuting libtards driving up their property taxes, the fear, resentment, and loathing—in the form of ever more massacres—would likely go off the charts.
Still, it's a tempting thought, if for no other reason than to take those fools' biggest fear and feed it straight to them. And there's very little chance anyone with a "Fuck Joe and the Hoe" sticker is ever going to develop thoughtful, nuanced domestic policy positions. Maybe marginalizing them in their own communities is the only way to limit their corrosive effect on our society and country. Certainly it would be preferable to letting them maintain the outsized influence and control they exercise now.
As tempting as those thoughts are, when it comes down to it, the whole American experiment is predicated on the idea of an ever-broadening definition of "the common man" having the wherewithal to make informed decisions about his, and as of 1920, her, destiny. But if that's what it comes down to, the American experiment is on the ropes, and as implausible and simplistic as it sounds, if we want to save our country, our everyday folks—simpletons, fools, and wannabe scoffers alike—are gonna have to grow the hell up.
Our everyday folks are typified by Stephen Ayres, a participant in the January 6th insurrection who later agreed to testify before the Committee investigating what happened that day. This exchange at the end of Ayres' testimony illustrates exactly what happens when "simple" folk allow scoffers to turn them into fools:
STEPHEN AYRES: It makes me mad because I... I was hanging on every word he [Trump] was saying. Everything he was putting out, I was following it. I mean, if I was doing it, hundreds of thousands or millions of other people are doing it, or maybe even still doing it. It's like he just said about that, you know, you got people still following and doing that.
JAMIE RASKIN: Mr. Ayres, I see that your wife has joined you today, and welcome to Washington. We know this has been very difficult on you both and your family. What lessons finally do you want the American people to learn from the way you and your family have suffered as a result of these events?
STEPHEN AYRES: The biggest thing is I consider myself a family man, and I love my country. I don't think any one man is bigger than either one of those. I think that's what needed to be taken, you know. People dive into the politics, and for me I felt like I had, you know, like horse blinders on. I was... I was locked in the whole time. Biggest thing for me is take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what's going on before it's too late.
I do sympathize, but I have only limited sympathy. This simple family man made a decision to believe what he wanted to believe. Sure, it's hard to expect people who are struggling to survive day to day to decode all the bullshit coming at them, particularly when everybody they know and everything they see and consume is carefully and systematically constructing a consistent line of all-encompassing bullshit. But nonetheless, Ayres made a conscious decision to immerse himself in that world. He made numerous conscious decisions to dismiss every crack in his universe as fake news. He and his kind are the reason fascists can exist, and as unfair as it is, the price of being a free citizen of the supposedly greatest country to ever exist is he and his kind are going to have to assume a little more responsibility for the sides they pick.
Folks who desecrated the US Capitol on January 6th and the many who were with them in spirit profess to be big on everybody else taking responsibility for their actions. So much so, they're good with the government forcing women to carry unintended pregnancies to term. If that's how committed they are to personal responsibility, and it is, then I'm here to suggest being a US citizen should also mean one has a responsibility not to be conned into baseless insurrections. For this country to work, the people who think of themselves as the patriots are going to need to realize it's not okay to know everything about college football and nothing about politics. Particularly if they're going to hold and act upon strong political beliefs. Being an adult in America post January 6th requires you not only have a job, health insurance, and a credit card; it means you have enough discernment not to be conned into storming the Capitol, either literally or figuratively.
In the '60s there was a saying directed at peaceniks in response to their protests of the Vietnam War: "Love it or leave it."
The slogan today, directed at anyone who can't resist being manipulated by scoffers, should be, in language we know they can appreciate, "Grow the fuck up, or get the fuck out."
Trumpers have drifted so far from their mantra of personal responsibility, they're even arguing their scoffer in chief can't be held responsible for his actions. Thankfully, Liz Cheney is here to set them straight:
This of course is nonsense. President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.
Cheney said these words at the end of the eighth televised hearing of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. It's unlikely most Trump supporters will hear or read these words, and if they do, they will be filtered through commentary designed to dismiss Cheney, as the Republican National Committee literally did, as a saboteur "intent on advancing a political agenda to buoy the Democrat Party's bleak prospects in the upcoming midterm elections."
Fox News has not only opted not to air the January 6 hearings, they famously provided commercial-free programming to prevent viewers from switching channels to see even a few minutes of them. Tucker Carlson used his extra time to explore the possibility the insurrection was actually an FBI-instigated riot.
Recently, my wife asked a family member if she was watching the hearings. The answer was an immediate, "No." When asked why, the family member said, "They're tedious."
I asked a friend if he was watching the hearings. "Nah, it's just the Democrats trying to get votes for the midterms." When I pointed out Republican Liz Cheney is the vice-chair of the committee, he dismissed her as "weird."
Another friend asked, "Why the hell would you watch that?"
I asked, "Why wouldn't I want to watch Republicans telling Republicans what Republicans did on January 6th?"
He then told me to go fuck myself.
(I didn't take it personally. Politics and profanity aside, he's one of the best people I know.)
In the face of a media filtering system so complete and effective, it's difficult not to be pessimistic.
Shifting demographics and post-pandemic migrations and many other forces entirely out of our control are already happening, and given enough time, they could possibly have the desired effect of breaking down Americans' social, economic, and political silos enough to prevent a second Civil War, or they may exacerbate the divide and even create new divisions between us. Either way, it's doubtful anything will happen fast enough, or be widespread enough, to reverse America's current course.
There will come a saturation or turning point, similar to the one predicted for climate catastrophe, after which scoffers will rule and simpletons will inherit the earth. I wish I could say the fools will not replace us, but I think it's already too late. We are them, and they are us. Let's go, Brandon.
I'm not a Marine, but I know the Marines. With 12-and-a-half years teaching the U.S. military under my belt, I can sincerely say, hand on heart, that the two-and-a-half years I spent at the "Crossroads of the Corps," teaching at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, were the most meaningful and fulfilling of all. What I learned there leads me to the ineluctable conclusion: Jim Mattis is no Marine. —Sebastian Gorka
Mattis was our Country's most overrated General. He talked a lot, but never "brought home the bacon." He was terrible! Someday I will tell the real story on him and others—both good and bad! —Donald J. Trump
I've earned my spurs on the battlefield... Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor. —General Jim Mattis
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. —Barrack Obama
I'm a Christian, and I say it proudly—we should be Christian nationalists.
The weekend I finally posted this essay, Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene made headlines by doing some "leaning in" of her own. Often criticized for her ties to white nationalism and her religiously intolerant remarks, she made the above statement to a group of young conservatives.
Ever the scoffer, Greene followed up her incendiary proclamation with some mockery tinged with misinformation (monkeypox is not presently considered a pandemic), something she knew her audience would appreciate:
We have a new global pandemic, have you heard about this? Monkeypox, that's right," she said. "It's the newest thing. Listen, you guys have to update your social media, right next to your Ukraine flag emoji and your vaccine shot emoji, you need to make sure you have a monkey emoji.
Repudiating the idea of white nationalism, the Baptist Minister Paul Raushenbush, incoming president of the Interfaith Alliance, had this to say in an interview the day before Greene made her remarks:
I strongly believe that you'll find religious diversity in every community. It's important to recognize that's fundamentally a strength for America, not a threat. This circle has to include everyone. White Christians don't get to say, "This is our country and the rest are lucky to be invited."
Baldewin Bugge, a friend of a friend on Facebook, offered the following response to Greene's endorsement of Christian nationalism. It seems appropriate to close with here:
That's an oxymoron. Not only does the Constitution forbid established religion, but Christianity forbids nationalism. The etymology of the word we use to refer to a contradiction in terms comes from the Greek phrase meaning "pointedly foolish." "Oxy-" is the pointed part, and the moronic ingredient is provided by Greene.